It's a Small but Magical World - a Thanksgiving 2018 Trip Report

jrmint427

DIS Veteran
Joined
Aug 19, 2013
Welcome to my latest trip report! I’ll get right into the details… that’s what you’re here for, right?!

When: November 21 – November 30

Where: We split our stay between Animal Kingdom Lodge and offsite at a family member’s place

Cast of Characters: Myself (Jessica), my husband (Pat), my Mother in Law, and two daughters ages 2 and 4

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We took a trip together in September 2017 (with my parents too) and we were hooked! You can read about that trip here. My husband and I went twice as adults before we had kids (for NYE and WDW Marathon in 2012 and I ran the Goofy Challenge in 2013), and we both went a couple of times as children. We couldn’t wait to get back again!

What should you expect from this trip report?

We drove from Texas to Orlando the two days before Thanksgiving, spent Thanksgiving and the week after at WDW, then drove home over two days. This trip was more crowded and a little more (okay, a lot more) stressful than our 2017 trip, but we still had a magical time. We stayed in 5 rooms over the course of 11 nights, spent 7 long days at the parks, met 25 characters, skipped the dining plan, and I purchased my first Annual Pass. My daughters and I are vegetarians but my husband and MIL are not, so expect food reviews from both perspectives.

I also developed a love of coordinating our outfits last year, so you can expect to see more of the same in this year’s report. Yes, I’m that crazy mom who will make everyone change their outfits in the middle of the day. Sometimes more than once a day. And you can expect lots of pictures. Maybe even some video!

And the title? It’s a Small World was both of my daughters’ favorite ride so we rode it many times. It also felt like a small "world" at the parks because it was so crowded most of the time we were there! And a small world in the sense that my older daughter got to see one of her friends from back at school in TX while at Disney.

I’ll come back and fill in the table of contents below to keep things organized.

November 20 - Travel Day
Travel Day #1

November 21 - Travel & Disney Springs
Travel Day #2
Homecomin'

November 22 - Magic Kingdom
The Boardwalk
Bon Voyage - The Food
Bon Voyage - The Characters
My First Dole Whip
Festival of Fantasy Parade
Meeting Mickey
Casey's
Winnie the Pooh, Carousel, Jingle Cruise
Skipper's Canteen
Hall of Presidents & It's a Small World

November 23 - Animal Kingdom
Lion King and Mickey & Minnie in Christmas Sweaters
Kilimanjaro Safaris
Restaurantosaurus
Na'vi River Journey
Finding Nemo, Expedition Everest & The Boneyard
Tusker House

November 24 - Magic Kingdom

Dumbo
Barnstormer, Teacups, Space Mountain, Buzz
Be Our Guest
Big Thunder Mountain & Tiki Room
Merida
Laugh Room, Philharmagic, Rapunzel & Tiana
Castle Lighting, Columbia Harbour House, POTC, IASW

November 25 - Resort Day
Sanaa
Jambo House - Savanna View & Pool
The Wallpaper
Boma

November 26 - Epcot

Spaceship Earth, The Land, Nemo, Turtle Talk
Teppan Edo
Frozen Ever After & Mulan
Anna & Elsa
Snow White
Jasmine
Restaurant Marrakesh

November 27 - Magic Kingdom

Haunted Mansion & It's a Small World
Enchanted Tales, Gaston's Tavern, Carousel
Meeting Gaston
Country Bears & Pecos Bill's
Festival of Fantasy
Ariel
7DMT, Under the Sea & Chilly Evening

November 28 - Hollywood Studios

Toy Story Mania
Army Patrol & Alien Swirling Saucers
Buzz Lightyear, Woody's Lunch Box, Little Mermaid
Tower of Terror & Frozen Sing-along
Slinky Dog Dash
Doc McStuffins
Beauty and the Beast

November 29 - Animal Kingdom

Starbucks & Timon
Kilimanjaro Safaris
Lion King & Pocahontas
Satu'li Canteen
Triceratop Spin & Up Characters
Up! Bird Show & Flight of Passage
Expedition Everest
Rainforest Cafe

November 30/December 1 - Travel Days

Leaving AKL and Trip Home
 
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  • jrmint427

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 19, 2013
    Thank you to everyone for following along!

    Pre-Trip Planning

    I’m going to get some of the “boring” details out of the way here, so feel free to skip this post if you’re anxious for pictures and actual trip report

    Just to set the stage, I am an over-planner. I like to go in with a plan, and then do my best to go with the flow once we are there. Having kids has forced me to get better at being flexible. We used the same Travel Agent for this trip and the year before. I like to do most of the planning myself, but I’ve found it’s so helpful to have someone I can ask questions, bounce ideas off of, and an extra set of hands when it comes to those early morning ADR and FP bookings.

    We paid for the dining plan last year and kind of regretted it. As a vegetarian, I don’t think I typically get the same value from the credits, and it just didn’t match our eating patterns. Yes, it was so nice to not have to think about paying each bill, but I also felt like we were wasting food at times. And we had so many snack credits left at the end of our trip. I’m going to do my best to add up our bills from this year to see if we really saved money (and if so, how much) by not having the dining plan this year.

    ETA: I did the math and we saved a lot! But I will save those details for another post.

    Another change for this year – I became an Annual Passholder! We decided to go back in 2019 before we even went on this trip. It made sense for me to get the AP for certain benefits (free parking at the parks, memory maker, and dining discounts) but did not make sense to get it for my entire family for just two trips. I tried so hard to convince my husband to sneak in a third to make it worth it for the whole family, but he reminded me how lucky I am that we are going once per year right now :-D I paid an extra $293 to upgrade my park tickets and memory maker to the AP shortly before our trip. I made up much of that cost between free parking while we were staying offsite, dining discounts, and souvenir discounts. It will definitely pay for itself when we go back next year!

    And just a final note on planning… for whatever reason, the planning part felt more difficult this year. I got very few of the ADRs I wanted on our ADR booking days (and there were multiple ADR mornings because we stayed offsite half the time AND when we moved rooms at the same resort, that counted as separate stays). I couldn’t even get a reservation at 50’s Prime Time, let alone Be Our Guest or Bon Voyage, and many of the times I got for other restaurants were not desirable. I set up alerts and followed Facebook groups to catch reservations that others were dropping, and by the time of our trip, I had almost everything we had wanted! The same for our Fast Passes – I didn’t pick up Slinky Dog Dash until just a couple of weeks before our trip. Bottom line – it pays to be persistent when it comes to booking ADRs and FPs!
     
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    jrmint427

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 19, 2013
    Travel Day #1

    Our plan was to get on the road to Disney after work on Tuesday, November 20th. My MIL was flying into Houston from Wisconsin this day around 3:30pm to make the drive with us. I was thankful we would have an adult in the backseat with the kids!

    I ended up taking the whole day as a vacation day and Pat was able to work from home to save us some time in the afternoon. We sent the girls to school this day so we could get things done at home, finish packing, and have the van loaded up in time. We surprised ourselves by having everything done much earlier than we normally would! We were finished by 1pm.

    I had started packing a few days before. Because I go crazy with our outfits, I packed outfits by day and character and put them in gallon size bags. I also packed just a duffle bag for us to use overnight in the hotel on our way to and from Disney, so we wouldn’t have to lug multiple suitcases in with us. We also had the double stroller, a pack n’ play, backpacks with entertainment for the girls, swim floaties, diapers, basically our whole house packed up in our van! I was surprised by how well everything fit.

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    I had on my “home” shirt and was ready to go! I couldn’t have been more excited to get our trip started.

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    We were tracking my MIL’s flight and saw that she would be arriving over 20 minutes early! We decided to get the girls and get on the road a little sooner than we had planned. We were going to pick up my MIL and start our road trip immediately, so getting out earlier would mean getting to our hotel earlier that night. We left around 3:00pm to get the girls. I put their Mickey and Minnie dolls in their car seats to greet them. We had been talking about this trip for a long time, so they both were very excited about vacation too!

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    We dropped our dog off at her “hotel” for the week, and had my MIL in the van by just after 4:00pm. We joked we had our very own Magical Express! My 4 year old was not amused with my picture taking.

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    We made good time this day. We stopped at a Jason’s Deli for dinner around 5:45pm and ate in a little under an hour. The free ice cream made the girls feel like they were already on vacation!

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    As we were walking into Jason’s Deli, I got a text alert from Mouse Dining. We had a 6:30pm reservation at House of Blues for the next day, but I had really wanted a reservation at Homecomin’. I read so many reviews and thought our whole family would love it, but there were no ADRs available for us. The text alert offered an 8:00pm reservation to Homecomin’! We had to make a quick decision, and decided that we could use the extra cushion on the road and we would go with the later dinner to make it work, even though it would be late for the girls. This turned out to be a great decision!

    We stopped on the far side of Louisiana just a little after 10:30pm. We know a lot of families will drive straight through the night, and my husband was tempted to do that – but knowing our family, we operate so much better with a good night’s sleep, so stopping was the right decision for us.
     
  • jrmint427

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 19, 2013
    Travel Day #2

    The girls woke up at 5:15am. Normally we would have been begging them to go back to sleep, but we were all pretty awake at this point, so we started getting ready to get an early start on the road. This is not like us at all, so we must have been pretty excited to get to our destination!

    We ate breakfast at the hotel at 6am. We stayed at a Hilton Garden Inn and I didn’t realize that I had paid in advance for breakfast, so that was a pleasant surprise. They had a cold food bar and made eggs and bacon on order.

    While we were driving, I was optimistic about our plans for the evening. I had read about a Character Warehouse with cheap souvenirs, so we were planning to stop at that on our way into town. I had forgotten about that minor detail of a time change (we lost an hour going out), but being on the road early meant we would still have time for the souvenir shop. We were making good time, you just fly through the states between Texas and Florida. My daughter loved the long tunnel we went through in Mobile, Alabama.

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    Before we knew it, it was 9:30am and we were already in Florida! We stopped at the first rest stop where they offer free orange juice.

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    The girls enjoyed the free juice!

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    Everything was smooth sailing until we got about 1.5 hours away from Orlando. I was driving at this point, and we hit some bad traffic. I think it was construction? Or an accident? Or just rush hour traffic? All I know is that the last 1.5 hours took about 3 hours. I was getting a bit tired and grumpy at this point. As I watched the GPS estimated arrival time creep up, we made the decision to skip the Character Warehouse. I was disappointed (mostly because I had read the bubble wands were $6 there instead of $27 at the parks), but I cared more about making it to our Homecomin’ reservation on time.

    We finally pulled up to Disney Springs around 7:00pm. It’s a good thing I had cancelled our 6:30 House of Blues reservation! I was so excited – with careful planning, I knew we wanted to go straight to the Lime Parking Garage. We were almost there… and there was a sign the garage was full. That’s okay, I told my family. There’s another parking garage, it’s just a little further of a walk. We get closer and… that parking garage is full too. We should have expected this, it was the night before Thanksgiving, after all!

    I start to panic just a little because I don’t like driving in strange places when I don’t know where I’m going. We saw signs for street parking, so I started following those signs. We ended up in the Watermelon parking lot near the Cirque du Soleil. It wasn’t a terrible walk, maybe 10 minutes or so.

    I wanted to stop by Guest Services before dinner because… I needed to pick up my Annual Passholder card! I wanted to activate it this evening so we could use it at our dinner and breakfast the next morning before going to the park. It was 7:30pm when we got to Guest Services. The “line” was 20-30 minutes long, which meant they would take your name and you had to sit nearby and be ready when they called you. I told the CM about our 8pm Homecomin’ reservations and asked her if she thought I’d be able to get in and out in time. She said no, that I needed to come back after dinner. We were already pushing the girls’ bedtime so I wasn’t happy about this, but what could I do?

    At least we were at Disney! I took in the holiday decorations. I was so happy to be at Disney for the holidays.

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    We decided to go straight to dinner to see if we could be sat early. They told us they would try. We waited about 20 minutes and were sat 10 minutes prior to our reservation time, just before 8pm.

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    Stay tuned for a review of Homecomin’!
     

    jrmint427

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 19, 2013
    Homecomin’

    I was thrilled we were able to get a last minute reservation to eat here!

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    We waited outside for a few minutes and then saw seats inside, next to the Christmas tree. I loved admiring all of the Christmas trees on Disney property! Each tree was perfectly themed for its location.

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    The décor inside was great.

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    But then we were seated outside on the patio. I was slightly disappointed at first because I had read about the “homey” ambience in the restaurant and wanted to experience that. But I quickly decided that we had excellent seats. There were fire warmers on both sides of our table. It was chilly but not too cold to be outside. And even better, we had live music right behind us! They were playing so many of my favorite songs, we joked that it was Disney magic and they secretly had access to my iTunes account in my phone. You might not be able to tell from her expression, but both girls seemed to enjoy the live music too!

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    My husband didn’t want a drink, but my MIL ordered a beer and I was eyeing the Apple Pie a la Mode. I was trying to decide between that and another drink, and our server said that the Apple Pie was more unique. It was also the night before Thanksgiving, so I went with that. I don’t remember it having moonshine but the description says, “Ole Smoky Apple Pie Moonshine, vanilla vodka, apple juice, cinnamon, house-made simple syrup and a dash of lemon.” It truly was like apple pie in a cup!

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    I would absolutely order this again, and have high hopes of possibly trying to recreate this at home some time! Sipping this and listening to live music outside put me in a happy mood.

    We decided to order the hush puppies as an appetizer. They came with pimento cheese and red jalapeño jelly. These were wonderful! We all liked them, except for my 4 year old, who only liked the pimento cheese. The jelly was a little too spicy for me, but I didn’t need it. These were hands down the best hush puppies I’ve ever had. They were fried just perfectly.

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    At this point the girls were getting a little antsy. We had ordered kid’s milks for each of them to go with their kids meals (note that kids drinks were not included with their meal; they were $3.50 each; I can’t help but noting that I could have bought 3 gallons of milk for the 2 cups we received!). The alcoholic drinks and our appetizers both came out before the girls’ milks did, and they were complaining they were thirsty. I tried to cut our server some slack though, because I imagined they were pretty busy the night before a holiday. This was the only point in our meal where service wasn’t quite as high as I had been expecting.

    I will also note that we did have coordinating shirts, but it was too cold to be showing off our t-shirts!

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    As a vegetarian, I knew I was going to order the Kitchen Plate, which allowed me to pick out three sides. I went with the mashed potatoes, carrot soufflé, and grilled corn succotash.

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    I was tempted by the mac n’ cheese but figured I could taste some from the girls’ plate, and Pat promised me a bite of his cheddar cheese drop biscuit, so I didn’t order one. The mashed potatoes were AMAZING. I’m not even a huge fan of mashed potatoes in general, but these were the best I’ve ever had. I ate every last bite. I’m also not crazy about carrots (yes, you’ll find I’m a really good vegetarian), so I’m not sure how I got talked into that one, but the carrot soufflé was really good too. The carrot taste was there but not too strong that I wouldn’t eat it. I also really liked the corn.

    My husband and MIL split the Art’s Famous Fried Chicken with a side of mashed potatoes and a drop biscuit.

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    That biscuit that is hiding behind the potatoes was amazing – I could have eaten three instead of just a taste of one! They said it truly was some of the best fried chicken they have ever had. And I had really talked this place up.

    I didn't see it listed on the menu, but I had read that they have Gardein fake chicken products so I asked if we could order the kid’s Gardein chicken sandwich. That was no problem, and it came with mac n’ cheese and carrots and peas.

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    They both seemed to prefer the chick'n strips over the bread, and they split the mac n’ cheese. I was glad I hadn’t ordered it as one of my three sides. The mac n’ cheese was good, but it wasn’t outstanding like the rest of the food I ate this night. The flavor wasn't cheesy enough for me, but my kids still seemed to like it.

    It was almost 9pm when we were finished. We were absolutely stuffed and I still had to make a trip to Guest Services, so we sadly skipped dessert. Next time!

    We spent a total of $95.32 before tip on 1 appetizer, 2 adult meals, 1 kid’s meal and 2 alcoholic drinks.
     

    jrmint427

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 19, 2013
    I’m an Annual Passholder!

    When we got back to Guest Services after dinner, they told me it would now be a 45 minute wait. I didn’t have a choice if I wanted to use the pass the next morning (for breakfast at a resort and free parking at Magic Kingdom), so I waited. I don’t know if these wait times are typical, but I wished they had an electronic system where I could have made an appointment in advance. I offered to let the others go to our condo to get to bed and suggested I could take an Uber, but they didn’t want to leave me. I was secretly grateful, as I was eager to just get home. Instead, Pat and my MIL took the girls to the Lego store while I waited on the front porch in a rocking chair.

    As they predicted, it took exactly 45 minutes for my name to be called. The girls were back at that point, so the 4 year old went inside with me to get the AP card. The CM we met with was friendly and had a nice chat with my daughter. It didn’t take long at all – soon I had the pass in hand and we were finally on our way “home”!

    We spent the first half of our trip at a condo that is owned by my MIL’s sister. She and her husband are so nice to let family stay when they are not using the place, and I believe they rent it out at other times. It was about 20-30 minutes from most parts of Disney, and has 3 bedrooms, 2 full bathrooms and a kitchen, so there was plenty of space for us! There was also a washer and dryer, which came in handy. We ended up really liking the place. It was midnight before we were asleep, but we were able to sleep in a bit the next morning.

    Total Steps for Day 1: 7503
    Total Miles for Day 1: 3.03
     
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    jrmint427

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 19, 2013
    The Boardwalk

    It was nice to sleep in a little bit on Thanksgiving morning. We weren’t sure what to expect with traffic, so we planned to leave plenty of time to get to the Boardwalk for our 10:30am Bon Voyage breakfast. We ended up driving onto Disney property around 9:30am. This was the first time I've gotten this picture because this was our first time driving ourselves onto the property!

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    I had also never been to the Boardwalk before. My husband and his family stayed here on one of their childhood trips, in 1998. They even remembered about where their room was located, as they remembered the view from their balcony. It was fun for them to be visiting the resort again 20 years later. Here are a couple of pictures from their 1998 trip:

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    As we were walking from the parking lot to the resort, we saw a rainbow in the water fountain of the lake. I pointed it out to my 4 year old and she said, “It’s so magical!” I loved that even a simple rainbow was magical to her

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    We took some pictures in front of the Christmas tree at the Boardwalk.

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    Once again, I admired the theme-appropriate ornaments on the tree. This was one of my favorite

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    We actually had 2 reservations for this breakfast – one for 4 people at 10:30am and for 1 person at 10:35am. I picked up the 10:30 from someone on Facebook who was dropping their reservation. I had really wanted this reservation for our last day, November 30th. Of all the reservations I wanted, this was at the top of my list. My 4 year old had liked Eugene (she doesn’t know him as Flynn Rider) for several years now. Since this is the only place we could meet him, it was a must-do on my list. I watched and watched for a reservation to open up on 11/30 but wasn’t getting any hits. Then this reservation on 11/22 became available.

    We weren’t going to arrive until the afternoon of 11/22 but I REALLY wanted this reservation. So I convinced my husband that we would start our drive after work on the 20th instead of the 21st and talked his mom into extending her vacation an extra day too. It didn’t take much to convince either of them :-D I then had an easier timing snagging an extra reservation for 1 and just got really lucky with the time. I didn’t expect it would be an issue for us all to sit together, and it wasn’t.

    We arrived early because I wanted to be sure they could get us a table for 5, even if that meant waiting longer. We were sat within 5 minutes, by 10:10am. While we were waiting, I overheard another mother and her daughter talking about whether my girls were twins or not. It’s funny to me because their age difference seems obvious, but the daughter thought they were twins. My girls were calling out for Rapunzel. I had told them that we would meet her at breakfast, and they began looking for her immediately.

    Up next, plenty of pictures from our Bon Voyage breakfast – and our long-awaited meeting of Eugene!
     

    jrmint427

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Aug 19, 2013
    Bon Voyage – The Food

    We were seated toward the back of the restaurant. It was nice because we didn't feel crowded near other tables. We really liked our server, Steven. They quickly brought out our frying pan of pastries. The clamshell was one of my favorites, but everything was good! We all split all of the items so we could taste everything.

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    The adults were desperate for coffee at this point. Then they brought out orange juice and I couldn’t decide which I wanted, so I was grateful when I realized that both coffee and orange juice were included with our breakfast. The girls LOVED this orange juice. The 2 year old insisted drinking hers with no lid… she did well until it was time for a refill. Our server was pouring her more and she moved her cup. Ugh.

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    Next they brought out a bowl of fruit for each of us. I was a little disappointed because I don’t like cantaloupe or melon, but my girls like both. The blackberries were some of the sweetest I’ve ever had, so I really enjoyed those!

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    We saw some of the characters at a distance when we walked in, but they didn’t make it to our table until after all of our food was delivered. I really liked the timing of this. I often feel like character meals are so rushed and it’s difficult to enjoy the food and watch for characters at the same time, but I didn’t feel that way here. We had plenty of time to enjoy some food before the first character arrived.

    I ordered the Tower of Pancakes. The fruit compote of the day was caramel apples – yum! Being vegetarian, they let me substitute the side of meat for a side of eggs with cheese.

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    The pancakes were beautiful and delicious! My one regret from this breakfast was that we didn’t share meals. I wasn’t sure if that was allowed here, but in hindsight, it was WAY too much food and I would have at least asked. After all the pastries and fruit, I ate my eggs and maybe 1 pancake in total.

    Pat ordered the Royale Breakfast – oak-grilled steak, cheesy egg torte, and fonduta with breakfast potatoes and crispy onions. He said it was pretty good. Good enough he would go back!

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    My MIL ordered the Tangled Eggs with Bacon – fresh mozzarella, tomato-basil eggs, and gravy with breakfast potatoes and choice of meat.

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    The girls got the Flounder Breakfast, which came with pancakes and they let me substitute the meat for scrambled eggs with cheese. Funny enough, I forgot to take a picture, but it appears that my 4 year old did. I found quite a few pics she took throughout the trip using my phone!

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    I read reports around this time that some people were complaining of cold food at this restaurant. I’m happy to say that wasn’t an issue for us! We were happy with the food.

    Our food arrived shortly before they announced the first character would be coming out! We must have had good timing, but the flow worked well for us. I’ll save the character photos for the next post.
     



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